6 Ways to Save for Back To School!

As a follow-up to last week’s post about honoring your kids’ school supply list , as promised here are some ideas about saving money (without buying off-brand crayons!)

6 ways to save money on school supplies

This tips are carefully considered and respectfully offered.

Background: I grew up in a wonderfully thrifty household.  I was taught that a person’s value does not lie in brand names, but that school is of utmost importance and teachers are to be respected.  I was bullied in school (not oversensitive, legit bullied!) for my clothes, shoes, hair, you  name it.  I am a middle-school teacher on hiatus.  I am now a parent.

With all of that in mind, I can understand parents, children, and teachers involved in this whole back-to-school situation.  I have tried to offer tips that help your budget but are not crazy hard to accomplish.  I’ve kept in mind the reality of kid needing to be remotely “in style.”  All suggestions are made in hopes that this helps you afford the specific supplies your child’s teacher has asked for on The List.

Here we go!

1 – Sort, declutter, and evaluate first!

In June or July, go through the major areas of back-to-school – clothing and school supplies – and see what can be used again next year.

If your child wears hand-me-downs or you thrift/yardsale ahead of sizes, evaluate how many upcoming clothes they actually like and will wear.

Get their fall wardrobe out of storage and check what will still fit them, fold, and count the items against how many they will need.

If your students wear uniforms, check older siblings’ uniforms to see if anything can be passed down.

(A capsule wardrobe for your children will really help keep costs down, as well.  I hope to write a post about this in the future!  Kids need less clothing than we assume (we all need less than we think!) Better to wear and wash and love a few pieces than have a closet stuffed full, a bank account empty, and “nothing to wear.”)

UNPACK THEIR BACKPACK and check for salvageable school supplies (binders, notebooks, pens, highlighters, calculators, locker accessories) throw out what can’t be saved, and check this against the school supply list.  Again, check siblings’ supplies in case there are grade-specific supplies that can be used again (calculators for elementary vs. high school math, certain colors of pen, certain kinds of binders or folders, leftover index cards or wide-ruled paper vs. college-ruled paper.) There is likely at least a few items of clothing or supplies that you can use again!

Evaluate what is truly needed.  Sticking to the list is important, but “extras” are not.  Examples?  Your child may be required to get plastic folders, but there are likely several price options that are all plastic.  Perhaps they need a 5-subject notebook – but it doesn’t have to have a cartoon character on the front!  A separate pair of “dedicated gym shoes” does NOT mean “$300 Nikes.”  If you choose to upgrade a supply or purchase brand names when it isn’t necessary (or buy your student scented markers or Sharpies or locker decorations, for fun) that’s your decision and should be factored into your budget!

2 – Shop second-hand first whenever possible!

Second-hand clothing from yard sales, thrift stores, or children’s consignment stores are a great place to start with savings.  If you are brand-new to second-hand shopping, I suggest starting at a children’s consignment shop like Once Upon a Child or Too Little for Me.  I find that children’s consignment offers great quality and most items are still in style.  You decide whether to take your child along on these shopping trips or not!

If your children wear uniforms, still check for pieces that can be acquired second-hand.  Often uniforms contain polo shirts or button-down shirts that do not need to be brand specific.  Even khaki or navy pants can be found in these stores (if your kids need uniforms, odds are good other kids in your area have also worn the same pieces!)  Additionally, by all means buy used when it comes to your child’s at-home wear and/or gym clothing!

Some school supplies can be purchased second-hand as well!  I have found many binders and folders (even expandable files!) at the thrift store – just open them up and make sure all the rings work.  Thrift stores also usually have loose leaf paper and notebooks (just check the rule of the paper – bring a piece of the right size to check them against if they’re not labeled!)  For big ticket items like Algebra-level calculators, check Craigslist or local buy-sell-trade sites, as well as friends and relatives.  (My family passed around the same big calculator for many kids, and my in-law family did the same!  I believe my husband actually gave his high school calculator to our nephew, even.)

If you are in great need, there are usually free clothing and/or school supply resources in your county through nonprofits, social services, or a local swap group.  Search the Internet, and use those resources!

3 – Sales and Discounts

Of course.  But many school supply sales begin early (like July early!) so be on the lookout and have your declutter and second-hand shopping done so you can walk into those sales prepared!  Something you possibly don’t know is that some states offer tax-free back-to-school shopping weekends where you automatically save your state’s sales tax on everything.

Some things can be stocked up ahead, especially if you have multiple children attending the same school so you have a good guess about what will be needed in the future.  Standards like the 24-pack of Crayola crayons, Ticonderoga #2 pencils, Kleenex, can be purchased in multiples if you catch a great sale!

Use those store coupons and discounts as they come to you (again, have the decluttering and thrifting done early!), even if that means buying one piece at a time.  Stores like JCPenney, Kohls, Macy’s, etc often have $10 off coupons that can be used in-store or online, and offer uniform pieces or regular clothing.

If you have a store credit card or gift cards, now is the time to use them!  I personally only have experience with Kohls as far as store credit goes, but they send a 30% discount every 6 weeks or so.  Along with $10 off $10 coupons.  (Absolutely no affiliation or kick-back.  I wish!)  I do not advise credit if you have difficulty paying it back!  Open and use lines of credit like cash – budget to pay the whole bill every month.

If you rack up customer rewards at non-clothing stores, see if they carry school supplies.  I get Goodwill Reward coupons for $5, and I know Shopko offers rewards coupons after spending money on prescriptions.

4 – Budget ahead of time

This may take a year or two to work the kinks out, but back-to-school happens every year.  For at least 13 years.  This should be part of your yearly budget, not a big surprise in August!  A few hundred dollars should cover clothing, shoes, and supplies if you shop prudently.  This is similar to the price of one new smartphone, 4 rounds of eating out at a restaurant, a couple household gadgets… things that many people purchase without much hesitation, and come from a “fun” budget category.  Supplying kids should be its own category.  We started a “kids” section of our budget before each baby was born, and have used this fund to cover baby supplies, diapers, booster seats, clothing, school tuition, art supplies… you name it!

5 – Outlet stores

If your children have strong opinions about brands, see where your nearest outlet store is for Nike, UnderArmor, Adidas, etc.  (Personally, I hope my parenting style leads to not having to buy these brands, but I digress.)  I have shopped these stores looking for sneakers for myself, and the pricing seems fair (less than full retail, but things are new and still “in”  so more expensive than thrifting.)

6 – Carry around the school supply list!

After you’ve decluttered and checked off what items can be reused, borrowed or bought second-hand and checked off those items, start carrying that list around in your purse or pocket so any time you are out running errands you can reference it and pick up something if a deal appears.  Perhaps you find you have a little money left on a gift card.  Maybe you get a free item with purchase at an unlikely place like a grocery store.  Maybe you’re out of town and happen to see a sale you don’t get the ads for.  At a rummage sale with a friend and happen to find something your child needs?  No problem!  Your list is with you and can be referenced and checked off immediately.

Forgetting what is already owned and duplicating purchases is a huge budget killer in any area of shopping!

 

Do you have great tips for saving money on back-to-school essentials?  Leave them in the comments (if they don’t involve off-brand crayons or skipping the Kleenex!)

6 ways to save on back to school essentials

To work or not to work? Is that the question? -deb

So your pregnant and are looking to the future. Are you going to stay home with your newborn or are you going to go back to work? It’s a question all new parents must struggle with. In sharing my story I’m hoping to give you some insights into why my family made the decisions we did as pertaining to working with kids.

When I caught baby fever, about a year into our marriage, my husband and I talked about how we wanted to raise our family and when it would work best for us to have our first child. We originally made plans that I would be a stay at home mom and we would adjust our budget to make that possible. This seemed like a perfect plan, my husband was on schedule with his schooling to get a full-time paid internship and then would only have one year of school left. We figured we could make the sacrifices needed to make our plans a reality.

When we found out we were pregnant with our first it seemed like our plans were falling into place.  God had different plans for us though, my husband’s school track changed. With my husband’s school track changing our plans changed and we decided that me working full-time would be the best decision for our family. My husband’s schedule changed to classes twice a week instead of everyday so he was able to be home with our daughter most of the time and when he had class we had been able to find an in home daycare for her to go to. I regretted not being home with her but I told myself that she slept most of the time anyway so I wasn’t missing much. I took advantage of every minute I was home with her though.

When our daughter was a year old I was able to be a stay at home mom. I thought I would rock at this job. This was my dream come true. I had all of my time to dedicate to my daughter and would be able to give her all my attention. I knew getting out would be key to my success, so we went to story time at the library. I had all this time and she was showing signs of readiness so we started potty training. I would had all sorts of time to do anything we wanted. It didn’t take long though till I was crazy and bored.

My daughter wouldn’t take naps when I wanted her to. I was unable to do even my short to do list. My daughter wanted me to sit and watch her play for hours. I couldn’t handle it. My one year old was emotionally draining me everyday and I wasn’t finding any joy in being with her. Although staying home was something I thought I wanted to do I was really struggling with this lifestyle mentally and emotionally.

I went back to work when my daughter was 19 months old. I worked full-time and sent my daughter to daycare. I was again struck by mom guilt with leaving my child under someone else’s care, but I realized I was able to enjoy spending time with her in the evenings and on the weekends instead of dreading the whole day when I woke up and didn’t really know what the day would bring.

I thought that maybe the number of kids affected my ability to stay home, so when we had our second child I again tried to stay home. It wasn’t the crazy boredom this time but the housekeeping that drove me crazy. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for myself and just can’t let them go. I felt that since I was home all day there really wasn’t a reason why I couldn’t keep my house immaculately clean every day or cross items off my to do list every day.

So when I was offered a position to teach part time which I jumped on it, and here I am now working part time with three kids and for the most part enjoying the craziness that a busy schedule brings.

Do I think all parents should work? No. Do I think all families should have one parent at home with their kids? No, that has to be left up to each family to decide. I want people to realize that there is more to consider in the decision making process then can we afford this option or that option. Leave yourself open to both options if at all possible. Be aware that what you always saw for yourself as a parent may not be what works best for you in the trenches of parenthood.

Are you a stay at home mom or a working mom? Do you have any pointers on how you made the decision to work or not to work? Leave a comment below.

Please, Just Buy the Kleenex (on your kids’ supply list)

I’m a teacher on hiatus as a stay-at-home-mom.  My husband is a teacher.  We both work/ed in parochial schools, notorious for high quality education and extremely low budgets.

I’m also extremely thrifty by nature.  We thrive quite nicely (no debt, saving for parochial high school and retirement at 60) on one teacher’s salary.  I know both sides of this coin.

Please, just buy the Kleenex.

your kids' school supply list

It’s back to school shopping season, and I am bracing for the onslaught of negativity.

That calculator is too expensive.  I can’t believe I need to contribute to a class stock of pencils.  Why can’t I just buy for my child?  This is too many supplies.  I don’t believe I need this brand of marker – I’ll just get whatever I feel like.  A whole pack of Expo markers?! They can’t possibly need two big boxes of Kleenex.

I can tell you personally, with all sincerity, if the teacher has asked for it, it’s necessary.  No teacher brings home a big paycheck – they know about scrimping and saving.  Teachers don’t like storing big backup collections of Lysol wipes – it’s a pain to find a place for all that stuff.  They feel badly asking you to search out specific brands and models of items.  They know the backlash they’re about to get, and they’ve stuck their neck out to ask for specific supplies anyway.

Because they, the professionals, have determined it would be best for your child’s education to have these specific supplies.

I can’t possibly exhaust all the specifics of everyone’s school supply list, but here are just a few possible explanations for why things may be required.

1 – Specific brands of pencils, or shared pencils for the whole class

Pencil sharpening is a huge time-waster in education.  The noise of the sharpener is disruptive during lessons or work time.  It requires students to be out of their desk (either at a sharpener, or emptying their personal sharpener) which opens the door for all kinds of management problems.  Many off-brand or “designer” pencils do not sharpen well – the lead is off-center so they’re never really sharp, the lead breaks off each time it’s sharpened, or the plasticy coating on the pencil gets all chewed up and stuck in the sharpener.

Whole-class pencils are a teacher choice made because of ease of management.  It can be very time efficient and smooth to always have a stock of sharpened pencils, all identical so there is no time or talking wasted in “choosing” or “finding”.  It’s not about some kind of classroom communism – it’s about efficiency and management.

2 – Specific calculators or other math devices

It is VERY DIFFICULT to teach a math class where there are several different models of calculator, protractor, etc. among the students.  Each set of directions must be given 4 or 5 times to accommodate the differences.  And while directions are given, the children to whom they don’t apply are likely getting distracted, goofing off, or craning to see their neighbor’s “cool different” device.  If everyone’s supplies match the teacher’s, then the directions can be given once, and even a large poster or presentation be created that exactly  matches what the kids have in their hands.

3 – Kleenex, Lysol wipes, paper towels, etc.

Children are natural wasters, and messy little people.  I understand that supplying paper products to a classroom, again, feels like “classroom communism” because other children are going to use them.  But to put it plainly, your child is spending 8 + hours a day for 3/4 of the year IN THE CLASSROOM.  That’s a lot of paper product usage!  If the child were home all of those hours, they would likely be burning through Kleenex and paper towels at home.  When the common cold sweeps through a classroom of children, an entire box of Kleenex is easily used up PER DAY.  The teachers personally Lysol wipe all the desks , doorknobs, sinks, EVERY DAY during flu season to try and prevent absences.  Trust me when I tell you, I never made it past February before running out of the school supply list paper products and having to buy for the rest of the year myself.  If the teacher bought all of these products for the classroom, that would mean purchasing 50 boxes of Kleenex, 20 containers of Lysol wipes, 20 rolls of paper towels… that extremely expensive for any one person.  Divided up among the students (who do all use them in some way! Promise!) it is much more manageable.

4 – Name brand markers, crayons, paints

These are asked for because they work the best.  There are many cheaper brands of art supplies out there, and they are cheaper for a reason.  They don’t work very well!  Off-brand markers dry out faster, don’t wash off as easily, and/or come in oddball colors that do not work for what we have planned.  Off-brand crayons have precious little color payoff and break easily.  These types of “little inconveniences” turn into big headaches and management problems when a child gets upset about his or her artwork “not working” or “being ruined” or can’t do the directions because the colors in that pack of supplies are different from others.

 

All of these supplies are requested after careful consideration, editing down of the list, weighing pros and cons, and year of education, training, and experience.  That’s not an exaggeration – every choice a teacher makes is for the benefit of your child’s education.  They are professionals at running classrooms and imparting knowledge.  They re-evaluate their supply list every June, adjust for any changes noticed in the last school year, then cross their fingers that the supplies will come on the first day of school as asked.

So please, just buy the Kleenex.  Maybe even a couple extra boxes.

For ideas on ways to cut costs for back-to-school (that don’t negatively impact the school day!) check out this post with six ways to save on school supplies and clothing!

 

 

Meal Planning, Differently

I cannot figure out how to meal plan traditionally
 I have read/watched lots of mom-bloggers and vloggers and many seem to plan out a week or more of meals, then hit up Costco or Sam’s Club and buy all the things needed to have said meals.  Some do a wonderful job of stocking up on meat or staples on sale, and keeping multiple pantries or freezers full of things to use in future weeks.

Here is my struggle:

First off, I don’t belong to any warehouse clubs.  I have never been able to justify the membership fees, or the drive to the nearest one (20 miles), nor do I have multiple pantries or a deep freezer.

Second, I have a rather poor selection of grocery stores near me (no Aldi or Trader Joe’s or discount groceries!)

Third, I refuse to coupon.  I don’t have the attention span/patience for that, and I don’t subscribe to a physical newspaper.

So I spend an arm and a leg on groceries?
Nope.
I quite literally don’t buy any food items that aren’t on sale.

Essentially, I meal plan in reverse.

I get my weekly grocery store ads on Wednesday.  During nap time, I sit down and make a grocery list by seeking out the food we eat that is on sale or store coupon.  I am looking mostly for meat, produce, and dairy, as we don’t really eat processed food. (Personal preference, we actually don’t like the taste of most processed food.  We are not food snobs.  We eat a lot of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and M&Ms, okay?)
Neither store I have available requires me to actually cut out coupons, so I just take my ad to the store with me and they scan whatever coupons apply.  I do not clip coupons from anywhere.  If the store has a hanger-coupon-thingy by an item, great, I’ll pull it off and take it with me to the checkout.

I make my list for each store, then I get out my list of dinners.  I compare the dinners list to the fresh foods on my shopping list, and decide 5 meals I can make to use the produce or meat that is on sale this week.
Then I plug them into my weekly planner based on amount of prep time, my husband’s after-school schedule, and events going on.

That’s it.
We shop on Saturdays, together as a family (free activity!) and my husband makes Saturday dinner (so I don’t plan it.)  On Sunday, we tend to make a large meal like roast or a whole chicken, which we use as leftovers if we need more food for lunches or if we will be very busy one afternoon.  I usually have the freezer space to freeze half a roast if necessary.

Speaking of, we have leftovers for lunch.  Everybody, every day.
And we eat cold cereal, toast, or oatmeal for breakfast.

Done.

It’s not fancy.  Sometimes it gets repetitious because of seasonal vegetables or dry spells in meat sales.  Some weeks we have precious little meat, or the same meat every night.
But that’s okay!  We eat mostly whole foods, mostly healthy, and it gets done on a budget.  Goals accomplished.

Keep a lookout for my list of dinners!  I’ll link it here when it’s finished.
Also something about my planner.  Which might be my second-best friend in the world.